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Mike Preston: Healthy JK Dobbins would cure Ravens running game


In three preseason games, the Ravens haven’t produced a dominant runner. That doesn’t bode well for a run-game-centric offense, and it only adds to the intrigue of JK Dobbins’ return to the starting lineup.

The problem? No one knows exactly when he will return. Coach John Harbaugh has kept Dobbins’ knee injury and recovery from a torn ACL a secret over the past year. Still, I’d be surprised if he didn’t leave Sunday in the season opener against the New York Jets.

The Ravens’ rushing offense needs a boost. It’s not business as usual since 2020, and in the preseason — sans Dobbins — Baltimore ran for 226 yards on 71 carries, or 3.18 yards per carry. It’s not sufficient.

Dobbins’ return is matched only by the return of Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, which would provide much-needed stability to the offensive line. Stanley, who is recovering from multiple ankle surgeries after his initial injury in November 2020, resumed full squad practices on Monday.

“It just depends on how he’s doing,” Harbaugh said of Stanley on Monday before giving an overall assessment of the injured players’ recovery after a three-day hiatus from training. “It has a lot to do with how he feels and if he’s ready to go. If he feels strong, if he moves and feels he can pull it off, and if we see what we need to see Same with JK, [cornerback] Mark [Peters] or one of those guys.

One thing is certain: it will be difficult for the Ravens to win without one or the other.

“JK has looked better every day, he looks good,” Harbaugh said after practice last Wednesday. “His speed is kind of back.”

Type of? This sounds the alarm. Years ago, knee injuries essentially took two years to heal, but recent advances in surgery, technology, and rehabilitation have closed the window to one.

However, some players heal faster than others, and the extent of Dobbins’ injury is unknown. Until he plays a game, there is still a degree of uncertainty about whether he will come back to himself and handle the wear and tear of an NFL season.

The games are brutal for all NFL players, but especially for running backs because of the constant body shots and hard cuts they make to get past defenders.

That’s why the Ravens have been so patient with Dobbins. They can’t afford to take their 2020 second-round pick out of the roster for another season. Last year, when Dobbins and backup Gus Edwards (knee) suffered season-ending injuries before Week 1, the Ravens brought in veterans Devonta Freeman (133 carries for 576 yards) and Latavius ​​Murray ( 119 carries for 501 yards). They were serviceable substitutes, but they couldn’t deliver big plays.

As insurance, the Ravens added veterans Mike Davis and Kenyan Drake this season, but Dobbins has a combination of speed and power they just don’t possess. He’s not a home run hitter, but he can produce the occasional big win. There’s a suddenness to his play that provides the Ravens with another outside threat alongside quarterback Lamar Jackson.

In a run-of-the-ball centric attack, Jackson and Dobbins are the bread and butter.

As a 2020 rookie, Dobbins rushed for 805 yards on 134 carries and scored nine touchdowns. He was expected to become one of the best running backs in the league last season once he improved as a receiver out of the backfield.

But injury in the preseason finale against Washington delayed that rise to stardom. Now Dobbins looks set to take the plunge. During training camp, Dobbins was clearly agitated at being kept out of practices, but he performed well in drills.

If he takes the field against the Jets, it will be a major step in his comeback. Another will have three or four good games in a row. If he can develop as a wide receiver, he will be a better player than he was before the knee injury.

But there are a lot of ifs, which makes Dobbins so intriguing. If he plays as well as he did as a rookie, Dobbins will have healed both himself and the Ravens’ running game.

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